I have often heard people claim the resurrection of Jesus contradicts science and thus must be wrong. Yet this argument is seriously misguided, as it depends on a faulty understanding of both science and Christianity.
If you want science to have a say on the resurrection, then you need to a) consider what Christians actually believe and b) show how science can address it through experimentation.
As for a), Christians believe Jesus was God incarnate and that his death/resurrection were a miraculous confirmation of the salvation work that took place on the cross. In other words, the theology clearly makes sense of the resurrection as a one-time event that is a promise for our resurrection at the end of history. Nothing in Christian theology would have us predict God would continually incarnate and resurrect throughout human history.
And science cannot address the actual Christian belief, for how could you possibly test this with an experiment? For example, does the resurrection of Jesus lead us to predict lots of people would be resurrected between then and now? If you think so, you need to make the case. And if you cannot make the case, there is no basis for scientific investigation.
If you want science to pass judgment on the Resurrection, you need some type of scientific analysis to determine whether or not this miracle occurred. Try it is this way. If science is going to address a claim, science must be able to formulate that claim as a testable hypothesis. So what is it? If Jesus did indeed rise from the dead, what do you predict that we should be able to find in the lab or in the field? Or fill in the blank. If Jesus rose from the dead, then we should be able to detect ___________.
Unless someone can answer this question and fill in that blank, any attempt to argue that science contradicts the Resurrection fails.
No testable hypothesis – no science.
No science – no scientific judgment.
Perhaps that explains why there are no peer reviewed scientific studies that attempt to determine whether or not Jesus really rose from the dead. That judgment call is not part of Science.
Since Christians have always believed the resurrection a miracle, there is no need for them to formulate a testable hypothesis. Those who demand that Christians abandon their belief because of science need to lay their hypotheses and research results on the table.
Since I have shown that science cannot address the Resurrection and therefore cannot pass judgment on the Resurrection, all appeals to the authority of science fail here. However, we can still fall back and at least demand the “evidence.” We can insist there is no evidence for the Resurrection and argue, “once dead you stay dead—that’s just the way it works.”
Yet for this argument to have teeth, someone would have to make the following argument: If Jesus did indeed rise from the dead, we would not all have the general experience of once dead, you stay dead. If, for example, it is possible that both a)Jesus rose from the dead and b) common experience leads us to believe once dead, you stay dead can be true, then appeals to b) add nothing to the dispute.
Not only is it possible for a) and b) to both be true, that is, in essence, what we would expect if a) is true. For Christians do not believe the Resurrection was some divine magic trick designed to impress, but instead was part of a transformative reality – Christians believe Jesus was God incarnate and that his death/resurrection were a miraculous confirmation of the salvation work that took place on the cross.
So if one is to pass judgment on the Resurrection, they must make an effort to come to terms with Christian theology. If the evidence to support the Resurrection is supposed to amount to a negation of ‘once dead, you stay dead,’ this evidence would amount to common experience of other people rising from the dead. For surely, if Aunt Ethel and Cousin Steve has risen from the dead, it would not be hard to believe that Jesus rose from the dead, right?
It looks to me like the modern mind has given itself two choices – either Jesus did not rise from the dead because it violates natural law and common experience, or Jesus’ resurrection did not violate natural law, as evidenced by all the other people who have risen from the dead, and thus becomes another piece of historical trivia.
Not true OR trivia strikes me as “heads I win, tails you lose.” And it certainly sidesteps Christian theology.
Of course, belief in the Resurrection does not need to be built on blind faith, for there are ways that the belief can be evaluated. For example, the Resurrection belief is intimately tied to the notion that we are in need of salvation. So if it could be demonstrated that human beings, and humankind, are not in need of salvation, the Resurrection belief would, IMO, be seriously undermined. But good luck with that one.